Working in Partnership
There are many different types of partnerships, and many different reasons that you might want to develop them. Some partners will help you generate ideas, or develop content; others will help you to design your engagement activity; some will be able to share their skills and knowledge to ensure your activity is a success, and others may be prepared to put resources into the activity. Partners can also help you develop relationships with different audiences.
However before you get started it is important to think through why you want to work in partnership, and why your partners might want to work with you.
Partnership management begins long before any project gets off the ground. Below are four things you should establish upfront to ensure a successful partnership:
- Invite involvement at the start. When you are developing your ideas. Partners may be able to advise you on potential difficulties or on the logistics; and they may have ideas that you might never have thought of. Involving partners at the start ensures that their needs and expectations are considered. It also means that you get a diverse set of views about how to move forward.
- Establish a clear joint vision at the start (and try to make it manageable). It can be a good idea to start small, and deliver something achievable, rather than try to do something amazing and fall at the first hurdle. It is important that the needs of all partners are reflected in the vision.
- Reflect. Monitor your progress continually and adjust where necessary. Work out what is working well, what is not working and whether milestones will be achieved. This is essential in managing your project, monitoring your success (or failure), and the effectiveness of the partnership.
- Be flexible. Try to stick to your aims and objectives but remember to be flexible! Something always goes wrong so be prepared to roll with the changes.
Other Good Practice that will avoid problems later:
- Be Frank! What's in it for me? Ensure you have an open and honest conversation with your potential partners about their (and your own) expectations before you get started. It is essential that all partners are aware of the motivation, demands and expectations of all those involved. Misunderstandings can lead to problems further down the track, and there should be no unpleasant surprises.
- Establish leadership, roles and responsibilities. Agree on key points of contact for you and your partner. Make sure that all partners know how decisions are made and who has final sign off.
- Communication. Make sure that the key points of contact within your partnership organisations are kept informed, and remember to ensure you have contacts for everyone you might need to speak to. Lack of communication is a common reason partnerships falter. Effective communication can help to build relationships, keep things working well, and make people feel included.
Find out your partners' preferred methods of communication – are they allergic to twitter, do they prefer face to face meetings or emails. Don't just circulate information to the person in charge – copy in all those involved.
- What happens if nothing happens? In the first flush of partnership it is hard to imagine anything will ever go wrong – but it is important to establish what happens if it does or if you or your partners do not keep their end of the bargain. Is there someone who is taking responsibility for the project from their side and yours? Make sure you have a system to identify when things are going wrong, and then a robust procedure for what to and how to correct this.
- Plan, plan, plan. Once you have agreed aims and objectives, establish key milestones and deliverables for each partner. It is advisable to draw up written agreements to ensure everyone is clear (whether in the form of formal written contracts, or meeting minutes/actions which have been circulated and approved via email). Timelines are invaluable ensuring each partner knows what they are doing and when.
Think about your partner - (Avoiding unnecessary conflict)
- What are their time constraints? Some partners may be out of contact at certain times, and may have capacity issues that you should be sensitive to. Take time to get to know your partners and their style of working, take their methods into account when planning their involvement.
- Don't choose partners whose interests conflict with your own (or with the interests of other partners). Ensure that you are partnered with the right person. Do they have the right kind of expertise? Are they in a position to agree to the decisions being made? Do they hold similar values and ideals?
- Your partners will each have their own reasons for getting involved. They will each have their own ideas about what they would like to take from the project
- .Make sure that you are aware of what each partner wants to get out of the partnership and agree on shared priorities. Ensure that a partnership is mutually beneficial – that way everyone will pull together to make it a success.
Other things to consider include:
- Take time to get to know your partners and their style of working, take their methods into account when planning their involvement.
- Build relationships with your partners, keep them in the loop and allow them to communicate any feelings of dissatisfaction rather than letting them bubble under the surface.
- Respect differences in style, values and approaches. Don't dismiss their ideas – they may know things that you don't know or highlight avenues you might not have explored. Treat all partners equally – don't allow other partners to 'pull rank'. Create space for all partners to be heard.
- Make sure that all partners are credited on any branding and publicity, and if you are using their company logo, find out about and adhere to their branding guidelines. Don't just grab the logo from the website – ask them for a high res copy.
- Respect the fact that your partners have to work with their Committee or board. They will have other constraints and responsibilities within their own organisation; your project may not be their top priority. Make sure that everybody is happy with decisions made, and that the reasons behind certain decisions are fully communicated. Then make sure these are shared with those who are responsible for the organisation.
Working in partnership does not always run smoothly. Part of the value of partnership work is that partners bring different insights and expertise, and this means that you won't always agree. However poor management can lead to the breakdown of partnerships, where partners feel they are not listened to, under-appreciated or are carrying more than their share of the workload. But with good management you can avoid these problems before they arise:
Finally – there comes a time when a partnership has run its course. If attempts to resolve conflict or stir up action have been unsuccessful you may need to consider dissolving the partnership. Thank all parties for their contribution and go your separate ways.
More information: Working in partnership | NCCPE